Duke Redmond, former professional wrestler, lives a solitary life in Los Angeles in 1976. His body is broken and battered from years of entertaining the masses during wrestling's golden age of the 1950s and '60s, when he wrestled as the flamboyant heel "Duke Continental."
Sara Sota, the widow of Duke's former colleague Larry, known in the ring as "Steele Trapp," asks Duke to look into the circumstances of Larry's death. Duke has no reason to think that Larry's death is anything other than a suicide, because after all, wrestlers don't die of old age, or natural causes. And Duke himself has occasionally thought of putting an end to his own miserable suffering, for which he self-medicates. Nevertheless, Duke begins looking into Larry's death and soon begins uncovering information that suggests maybe Larry didn't go crazy and kill himself.
Then, Duke's niece Honeysuckle shows up unannounced from Iowa, declaring her intention to enroll in classes at UCLA. Duke reluctantly makes room for her in his cramped one-bedroom apartment. But she hasn't come into town to study; she wants to be a dancer. Her attempts to create a new life for herself bring her to the attention of a porno producer who wants to use her in his latest endeavor which will be distributed using the freshest entertainment technology-- videotape.
This is the premise of my crime novel, Live It Down, which is available now for the kindle for $2.99 and print for $8.99. The first chapter is below. If you're interested in professional wrestling, porno, the 1970s, or feeling good all the time, give it a read.
Jose couldn’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t instinctively know that things were totally cracked the fuck up. But every so often and just for the hell of it the world gave him unnecessary verification. This time it was Larry Sota’s suicide that did it. The poor, stupid bastard just could not or would not see that everything doesn’t always fit together the way you think. Look close and you can see the cracks.
James’ and Marco’s deaths weren’t part of any conspiracy. They had nothing to do with Larry or anything Larry might have done and they damn sure didn’t have anything to do with Jose. The only thing all four men had in common was that they’d made the unfortunate decision, in the long ago murky past, to entertain the masses as professional wrestlers. And that decision, made mostly of their own volition, led to many other bad decisions. Decisions that always seemed reasonable and even rational at the time, but were in fact monumentally cracked the fuck up.
Training is hard. You lift weights, you spar, you practice your moves, you perform. Well, your body gets tired and sore, so what do you do? Give it time to recover, or take something to ease the pain and give you a little boost so you can keep going the next day? And while you’re turning that over in your mind you might also want to ask yourself: What are the other guys doing? You know, the guys who are after your spot on the card? That’s right, and if you’ve got any sense at all you’ll take that goddam Dianabol yourself; just enough to keep up. Then maybe a little more, just to get that edge. And you know what, if the Dianabol works that well, imagine what uppers will do for you. Then pretty soon you start to realize that uppers are nice, but what you really need is cocaine, then the cocaine isn’t enough so you try a little heroin—right between the toes so no one can see the telltale marks; this is entertainment for the whole fucking family, you know. And all of that, the drugs plus the alcohol you drink between matches and at the parties is doing nothing but good for you. You don’t even notice the cuts and bruises, the pulled muscles, the concussions. You just keep on, and you and every other poor stupid bastard who came before you thinks it’s never going to end.
Then all of a sudden it does end, and you’re nothing at thirty-five. And those drugs that helped keep you going, easing the pain and speeding your recovery? Turns out those motherfuckers have made your body too old and decrepit to do anything at all. Oh, and those blows to the head that rang your bell and made you see stars? You thought you were just shaking them off, but guess what? They’ve made you too goddam stupid to learn to do anything else.
If James and Marco could be said to have been murdered by anything, it was the lifestyle. By signing on and getting into the business they’d condemned themselves. Wrestlers don’t die of old age. They don’t die of natural causes. There was Artie Haley, whose brain hemorrhaged while he was driving, and he plowed his goddam car into a schoolbus when he was thirty-one. Jeff Parker had a heart attack while sitting on a public toilet, injecting heroin into a vein in his ankle when he was thirty-eight. Danny Marshall got shanked in prison at thirty-five. Joe Masur got it into his head that he could fly, and jumped off the roof of his house when he was thirty-six. Chris Thomas was crushed by an overweight prostitute when he was thirty-three. Eddie Stark had a heart attack while walking up a flight of stairs at forty-six. Poor Lincoln Holler had fallen into a coma five years before, when he was forty.
And now add Larry Sota to the list. Went crazy; completely batshit crazy. Convinced beyond all reason—and totally immune to any sensible argument—that some mysterious someone was out to get him, at fifty. Christ, what took him so long? Fifty is a ripe old age. Comparatively, he was one of the lucky ones. Then he went and proved just how fucked up the world is by tying a noose around his neck—hell, not even a real noose, with a proper goddam loop, but just one half-assed knot (Jose shuddered to think about how painful that must have been, how determined Larry must have been to end his own fucking life when the coroner said that he’d spent at least an hour on that rope; shit, after forty-five minutes wouldn’t you just say, Enough’s enough, I’ll try it again tomorrow?) and ending everything himself.
“I’m gonna die,” he’d said. Poor deluded, batshit crazy Larry (hey; maybe that wasn’t such a bad wrestling name) had called Jose almost out of the blue, after seven years, and slurred “I’m gonna die. You’re gonna die.”
“What’re you talking about, old friend?” Jose had tried to sound comforting, but he knew there was no comforting the man who owned that pathetic voice on the other end of the phone line.
“They got James,” he’d said. “They got Marco.”
Jose had heard about James and Marco. “They died, Larry, but that’s got nothing to do with you.” He’d taken a drink from his can of Pabst.
“It’s because of what we did!” Larry had whined. Deep voice, but the man whined.
“That night. The night, it was...” his voice trailed off, vaguely. “Back in Kansas.”
Jose had been in Kansas only four times in his life; the last time was nineteen years before. Half his lifetime before. He’d smiled at the memory.
“That was an... interesting night,” he’d said.
Larry gasped. “It’s getting us all killed!” he said.
“You can’t really believe that what happened that night has something to do with Jimmy and Marco?”
“He’s doing it in order—”
“Who is ‘he’?”
Larry had ignored Jose’s question. “The order that we went that night. First it was James... Then Marco... Then, oh gawd, it was—”
Jose had heard Larry sobbing on the other end of the line. In response he had laughed lightly. Didn’t want to belittle the poor man, who was obviously batshit crazy, but still. “Larry, you’re letting this get to you. It’s too bad about Jimmy and Marco, but for god’s sake, it’s got nothing to do with you, or with me...”
“You’re after me,” Larry had asserted.
Now Jose really laughed, he couldn’t help himself. “I’m not after you, Larry, my friend. I assure you, I’m not after you.”
But that’s not what Larry had meant. He wasn’t accusing Jose; he was warning him. “They’ll come for me next, and when they do, you get yourself ready,” he’d said.
“Christ, Larry, first it was ‘they,’ then ‘he,’ now it’s back to ‘they,’ which is—”
“I’m getting myself ready,” and Larry’s voice sounded clear for the first time during the call. Cold and calculating, like an accountant toting up column A. “I’ve set up a will. I’m getting everything in order. Talked to my kids for the first time in almost a year. I told my son I love him for the first time—” and the coldness left his voice again, and he was sobbing.
Whether Jose had thought the man was crazy or not—and clearly he was crazy—was beside the point now; Larry was hurting real bad, and there was not one goddam thing Jose could do for him. It made him a little resentful. We’re dying before our time? Wrestlers do not die of old age. He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud, but goddammit Larry knew that as well as Jose did. None of them would be able to live down their pasts. Try telling me something I don’t already fucking know.
He’d wished Larry hadn’t called, and he didn’t want to continue the conversation. “Hey, listen, Larry, thanks for the call, and the warning and all that, but I really got to get going now. Why don’t you give me a call later this week?” Maybe when you clear your head and stop with all this insane bullshit. Then: “Maybe we can get together. You’re still up in Pasadena, right?”
“Maybe you can come to my funeral,” Larry had said. “Maybe you’ll get the chance before they hold yours.” The line went dead.
Then, two days later, Larry went dead. For god’s sake, he killed himself. To ensure he wouldn’t die of old age? To pre-empt whatever he thought was coming?
The call to Jose was his fucking suicide note, and Jose hadn’t done anything about it. Not one goddam thing. He could have told someone. He could have called someone. Larry had a wife, maybe he could have called her. Maybe Duke. Hadn’t Duke worked at the VA Hospital for awhile? Might have been able to get Larry some help.
That was why Jose couldn’t bring himself to go to the funeral. Sure as hell wasn’t Jose’s fault, but Jose had a sort of flaw in his character and he felt guilty. Crazy as he was, Larry had reached out to him, but Jose had turned away. Had hung up and finished watching Barnaby Jones, or some bullshit like that, killed off a can of Pabst and then opened another one. Had spared poor batshit crazy Larry about five seconds of thought before going to sleep that night, but didn’t think of him again until he’d gotten the invitation to Larry’s funeral.
He should have told someone about that call. But he didn’t.
Jose didn’t believe that Jimmy and Marco had been killed because of what happened that night in Kansas. He was no psychiatrist, but it seemed obvious to him that Larry must have felt guilty about that for a long time, and Jimmy’s and Marco’s untimely but hardly unexpected deaths had given him an excuse to dig at himself about it. But goddam, there was no reason for that guilt shit. The girl had wanted it. She’d wanted all of them. Lots of girls had hot pants for wrestlers. Today they were called groupies or starfuckers or whatever. Jose couldn’t remember all the strange he’d gotten out on the road. And plenty of them went with more than one guy in one night.
It was true, that night was unique. And that girl was unique. She’d taken on five of them, all by her sweet little self. For Larry’s sake, he cast his mind back. He tried to remember specific details. What about that night, that event, that wild young girl, could have caused Larry so much fucking grief? The answer was simple: Nothing. But to someone who’d had one too many concussions, and taken one too many uppers, that didn’t matter. And if it hadn’t been about that night, Larry would have made it about something else.
But then the night of the funeral Jose got another phone call, and goddammit he just couldn’t help himself. He started to wonder if maybe Larry wasn’t so batshit crazy after all.
Duke Continental's embarassing headshot from 1963 plays an important part in the book.